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Sunday, March 3, 2013

What is the Healthiest Diet?

Almost everyone who hears the word “diet” thinks of weight loss.  But all of us eat a “diet” every day.  Our diet can be healthy or unhealthy depending on our daily food choices.   Researchers have studied people’s diets across the nation, what they eat and how healthy they are as a result of their eating habits.  They found that those who ate a Mediterranean Diet not only had “healthy” eating habits but were less likely to die of heart attack or stroke.  So effective is this diet, that the New York Times notes:

 ...about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals.

These findings were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  But studying this diet is not new as a professor from the University of Minnesota, Ancel Keys, PhD, studied this diet in post World War II.  At that time they called it the “poor man’s diet” as it was based on grains, fruits, vegetables beans and fish, and little meat.   A Lyon Diet Heart Trial in 1998 indicated that 3 years on the Mediterranean lowered risk of heart attack by 70 percent and lowered one’s risk of dying by 56 percent.  

What is the Mediterranean Diet?  
An article in the Environmental Nutrition letter (Feb. 2013), listed the main features of a Mediterranean diet:

  • Fruit and Vegetables at every meal – I always tell my students to aim for 2 fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. 
  • Grains at each meal – especially whole grains, oats, wheat, barley, corn.  So many people think “carbs are bad”.  But actually whole grain carbs are very nutritious and most of our grains should be whole grains. 
  • Olive oil – what is the healthiest oil?  Olive oil.  Those eating a Mediterranean diet have olive oil as their main oil in the kitchen.
  • Nuts – although nuts are high in fat, it is a healthy fat.  I tell my students to aim for a handful of nuts a day.
  • Beans, legumes, seeds – high in fiber and healthy for us. 
  • Herbs and spices – these have no calories but loaded with antioxidants which are healthy for us.  So spice up your foods.
  • Cheese and yogurt – focus on low fat dairy products.
  • Fish and seafood– in place of red meat, serve fish.  Tuna, herring, sardines, salmon, clams, shrimp.
  • Wine in moderation – about one 5 ounce glass a day for women and up to 2 five ounce glasses for men.
  • Water – drink water in place of sugar sweetened beverages – much healthier choice and water has no calories unlike the empty calories in sugar sweetened beverages.

But in addition to eating these healthier options, the research also suggests physical activity every day. 
So what if you can’t do follow every part of the Mediterranean diet?  Well start with what you can do.  Pack some snacks to take to work of a baggie filled with a handful of nuts, a baggie filled with dried fruit, or sesame seeds.  Buy olive oil and start to use it at home when cooking.   Adapt at least part of these healthier choices to your everyday routine.   

See:   New York Times

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